Welcome to AccelPro Employment Law, where we provide expert interviews and coaching to accelerate your professional development. Today we’re featuring a conversation about employment law trends in 2024. Our guest is Lakeisha Robichaux, the owner and founder of Chief of Minds, a human resources consulting and outsourcing firm.
We asked Robichaux to pick three trends in employment law in 2024, and she named artificial intelligence, DEI and emotional intelligence as issues that will be front and center for HR executives and employment attorneys all year.
Each brings unique challenges. With AI, the key issue is trust—HR executives must trust the vendors they hire to run AI for them as well as the in-house staffers who oversee that AI. With DEI, it’s transparency. It’s no longer good enough to do DEI just to say you did it. And with emotional intelligence training, the focus will be on communication.
2:22 | Chief of Minds.
4:05 | Robichaux, Lakeisha. How CEOs can Bring Next Level of Growth. (October 27, 2023). Entrepreneur.
7:48 | Students For Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, No. 20–1199 (2023).
8:57 | Chang, Edward and Levine, Bonnie. To Drive Diversity Efforts, Don’t Tiptoe Around Your Legal Risk. (July-August 2022). Harvard Business Review.
I. AI: HUMAN OVERSIGHT IS CRUCIAL
Matt Crossman, Host: You work closely with companies on issues related to employment law, and I asked you to pick the top three issues in that area for 2024. You picked AI, DEI and a particular type of training that you think will be both beneficial for companies and reduce their liability.
We’re going to take those one at a time. Before we get to that, let’s cover some background on you. You founded Chief of Minds in 2014. What is Chief of Minds and what do you do there?
Lakeisha Robichaux: Chief of Minds is an outsourced human resources strategy and organizational development firm. We support organizations with their human capital strategy and day-to-day operations.
When it comes to organizational development and workforce development, we help our clients select talent, have a plan for that talent and growth and acquisition in some cases. We serve as a fractional HR and workforce development support for them.
MC: All right, on to the big three issues in the employment world in 2024. As I said, they will be AI, DEI and a particular type of training. Let’s do AI first. AI is a constant presence in the news. That’s true in general and for HR execs and employment attorneys in particular. A lot of attention is paid to how and when to use it, particularly in hiring.
What do you see happening on that front in 2024?
LR: You hear about AI all the time. For 2024, what’s to come is to continue to see implementation and execution of AI. Specifically for human resources executives the question is, how will we implement it?
What does that look like? What type of AI vendors will we bring to the table? What type of fact checking and testing have they done with the algorithm? So we definitely plan to see more implementation and execution, but also making sure that the compliance behind it is there, so that way we know that we are compliant, and we know that it is equal throughout.
MC: I love that you used the word compliant there. That goes right into my next question. You wrote a piece on this issue at entrepreneur.com, and I want to read a quote to you. “By embracing digital tools, platforms and leveraging AI, CEOs can increase operational efficiency, expand to new markets, better connect with customers and attract top talent.”
It’s the “attract top talent” that I want to ask about. In talking with experts on this issue, I sense unease along two fronts. One is that when used in hiring, AI will enhance bias accidentally. The other is HR execs just want to hire good people. They don’t really understand how AI works. So they’re depending on the vendors, as you just mentioned. What advice do you have for HR execs who want to use AI in hiring and want to do it correctly?
LR: Yeah, so good question. AI is not new. It’s been around for years. From a human resources standpoint, we’ve used it, whether it’s outsourcing screening of resumes, performance management, hiring, what have you. The most important piece when we talk about the bias is really understanding what type of AI we are putting in place.
A lot of that is going to depend on whatever company vendor that we decide to use to do the screening of the resumes for us. What type of algorithm, what type of testing are they using? And then we have to hold them accountable because ultimately, as HR, we are going to be held accountable, the employer’s going to be held accountable.
That’s why we have to do the research. We have to do the investigation to make sure that company, that vendor, has systems, processes and checks in place in order to make sure that it is compliant. And that also means not just relying on the AI to do the work.
What I mean by that is there should be someone, a human, who is also overseeing the AI. We still need to have someone who is overseeing it, whether it is three or four or five different processes, different AI tools that are being put in place. Who is overseeing it to make sure that it’s doing its job and it’s doing its job compliantly and doing the due diligence that needs to happen?
Whether we hire Chief AI Officers for the organization or appoint someone to a similar role, there has to be a human who is holding the AI tool accountable and holding that AI vendor accountable. And if this is something that the company may be creating on their own, more needs to be done inside of the organization to make sure that it’s compliant.
Either way that it goes in 2024, that focus is definitely going to be on AI, the implementation and execution around it, what processes are we putting in place, and then ensuring that it is compliant because it’s not going to go away. That’s for sure.
MC: I don’t envy HR executives on this issue because they are being held accountable for something they didn’t create, and they probably don’t understand. So you really have to trust either the vendor or the AI executive that you have in place.
Is that a fair assessment?
LR: That is so fair. Human resources executives are not developers, we’re not coders. This is not our thing at all. But we are being held liable for the outputs that come with it, for the potential liability that comes with it. So we really want to have a great partnership.
We want to make sure that the companies that we hire or the software or apps that we use are complying. What are their values? What do the quality assurance, the quality checks look like for that organization?
II. DEI: HOW TO DO IT WELL, TRANSPARENTLY AND LEGALLY
MC: Now let’s move on to DEI. This is going to sound like a strange way to focus this part of the interview—talking about college admissions— but this may be one of the biggest DEI issues of the year. So we’ll start with the implications of the Harvard-UNC case, in which the Supreme Court said they cannot use race as a factor in the enrollment process.
Some experts, not all, see this as crucial for how workplaces run their DEI programs. Others say they should just keep doing what they’re doing because what does enrollment have to do with work? What are you telling your clients in 2024 about what this case means for them?
LR: I am telling them that they need to continue to keep DEI as a priority, regardless of what the outcome of that particular case was. When you make DEI a priority, it increases retention, it increases the acquisition of talent, it helps the culture, it helps engagement inside of the organization. It definitely needs to continue to be a priority.
MC: So it seems like the reaction from you would be, yes, I understand your questions and I don’t blame you, but no, don’t go messing with everything.
LR: Exactly. Do not go messing with it. Let’s keep DEI a priority as it should be.
MC: I want to read two quotes for you. One is from Harvard Business Review, which is germane here, and one is from you at entrepreneur.com. First, from Harvard Business Review. This is the quote: “Ineffective DEI, particularly when perceived as non-committal and inauthentic, can cause a lot of problems. It can harm recruiting efforts, damage employee morale, drive employee concerns underground and even invite lawsuits.”
Those last three words caught my eye—even invite lawsuits. Now, your quote from entrepreneur.com, and it echoes what you have been saying here. “A diverse and inclusive team can drive innovation, expand your talent pool, and increase business and financial performance.”
It feels like we’re on a tightrope at this particular time in our business history. You want to do DEI well, you want to do it authentically, but you also want to do it legally.
The question for 2024 is, how do you do that?
LR: The best way to do that is having a commitment and being authentic. What does that look like? That’s having a plan and then sticking to the plan. That’s being transparent about what that plan is. That’s putting in KPIs and measuring your DEI efforts so that way you know that it’s done. When it’s not committal and inauthentic, it’s just something that you’re doing just to say that you’re doing it. Some companies, it has been said, are doing it for branding purposes. They’re just going through the process to say that they actually did it, but they’re not really being committed.
When you have leadership that looks like the diversified audience of their team, then you know that it’s really driven in there. If you have a plan and you stick to it and you make yourself accountable to it, that’s the way that you can do it. But not just going through the motions.
We saw that happen a lot during COVID. Unfortunately, a lot of people jumped on the bandwagon with that. And so now we need to be true and authentic to what that looks like and start setting accountability.
And then the more you do that, the more you’ll get buy-in. The team members and employees will understand and believe that, hey, DEI is taking seriously the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion.
MC: I’m glad that you brought up COVID and how authenticity started to be questioned. Let’s imagine I’m an HR executive, and I see a DEI push going on and it rings hollow to me. I’m thinking we’re just doing this to do it. How do I stand up and say, No, we need to be more transparent than that?
LR: As far as being transparent, it’s asking questions. What does the DEI plan look like? Because I’ll tell you, oftentimes what we hear is, “We’re trying to be more inclusive. We’re trying to get more diverse candidates. But we’re just not finding them.”
OK, tell me, what do the efforts look like? How are you trying? Because it’s out there. You have talent that will meet the needs, the goals of your organization, but where are you looking? And so it’s our job as the HR executives to help them. What is the action plan? How do we jump in and say, “OK, you’ve tried this particular course, but let’s look outside of the box, let’s go to other resources and partners that truly specialize in this.”
And we know that we can find it. And we don’t stop until we do because we know it’s out there. We have to be willing to be transparent in what we see, the underlying tones and meet it upfront, but also have an action plan.
Just calling it out is not enough with HR executives. We have to come with actionable insight and plans to the table to help them because that’s what we are—we are partners to help them achieve the goals that they need.
III. EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE TRAINING: BEING AWARE OF WHAT YOU SAY AND HOW YOU SAY IT
MC: So we talked about AI, we talked about DEI, now let’s get into training. That’s a very broad issue, of course. Training is always important, and it always will be. But you singled out a particular kind of training—emotional intelligence training. Why that kind?
LR: When we talk about emotional intelligence, it’s being aware of oneself and others, being aware of your emotions, how you respond, others’ emotions, and how they respond. That is so important. When we talk about training, especially for leadership, everyone from the top to our frontline employees, it’s important to be emotionally aware of how we communicate.
If we had the emotional awareness when it comes to communicating with our employees, it can definitely reduce potential for discrimination, for harassment, for unconscious bias, because we are aware of ourselves, how we’re communicating, our tone, and how others perceive what we are saying.
We can deviate from certain things that should not be said, or better yet, could be said in a different way.
MC: The EEOC did a report a couple of years ago looking into workplace problems, and one of the conclusions they came to was basically, just don’t be a jerk to each other. They didn’t say “and emotional intelligence training can prevent that,” but clearly, that’s part of it.
It’s almost like we’ve gotten to the point where we don’t know how to treat each other. We need to be taught.
LR: That is so true. A lot of people are stressed in their roles. There are things that are happening on the personal level as well as the professional level. There are so many things that are going on. You have results, you have performance that you’re managing and that you’re trying to achieve, along with things that are happening on your personal front.
At the end of the day, we are humans. There are going to be times where we get upset. There’s going to be times where we may not feel comfortable or we may not like the results of something, but we have to be keen and aware of how we communicate.
And sometimes it’s not the verbal communication, it’s the body language. Being aware of that, we can help navigate some of these conversations, and we can avoid some of the liability, the lawsuits that are happening because at a given moment, someone blew up or said something that they shouldn’t have.
And you’re so right. The EEOC didn’t say emotional intelligence, but ultimately that’s what it is. Take a step back, really think about it. When you understand emotional intelligence and you get training for emotional intelligence, ultimately you have a better awareness of what it is, and how you can communicate and avoid certain situations.
MC: One of the things that I’ve learned in doing interviews about harassment, discrimination and retaliation is very often it’s not about the particular event. It’s about the aftermath, that either the person didn’t listen to you or they blew you off. And again, I think that’s an emotional intelligence factor. A two-part question: Do you agree with that? And then specifically how can that help a company avoid liability?
LR: That’s exactly what it is. When you look at the root of that, it’s all about communication. It boils down to communication. And like I said, whether that is verbal communication or it’s body language, that’s the root of it.
You have to really understand what may get someone annoyed. And whether it is the leader of an organization or if it’s an employee, being able to understand that, and pick up on cues. There’s also the emotional perception of it: Do you see that other person accurately?
And then being empathetic. At the end of the day, the reaction or the output of that is often what causes issues down the road, the liability.
MC: I think through some of my old bosses on this issue. There are a handful of them who modeled this exactly as you would want, and you love them for it. Then I’ve had some bosses who, if you brought up emotional intelligence to them, they would laugh you right out of their office.
How do we persuade the old-school manager that this is an issue, and it’s not just a bunch of whiny employees who want to be treated better?
LR: That’s a great question. And honestly, it’s very real and authentic for today because many quote unquote, old school—I like to call them seasoned—managers, that’s how they feel. And honestly, that’s because years ago you ruled with an iron fist. It was, do as I say, period.
And so it is really about having conversations, really coaching and consulting them, on the best way to communicate and relate to the workforce today. It does not work to rule with an iron fist, and that’s because employees are not open to being ruled that way.
There are more opportunities of where they can go to work. And then there’s also more potential, when you look at lawsuits and policies and things like that, that weren’t there years ago—the potential for liability wasn’t as strong. We need to coach our seasoned managers and leaders that if you want to have a productive workforce, if you want to have an engaging and responding workforce, if you want to increase productivity, this is how we have to relate to them.
And it’s not because they’re whiny or they can’t handle it. It’s just that what motivates and inspires them is something different than what it was years ago. Let’s test it, let’s see, let’s show them. And then also let’s do some trial and error so that way they can understand.
If they have a revolving door, if there’s retention issues, what is it related to? Let’s find out. If they have a lot of lawsuits, what does it go back to? And oftentimes it is communication because someone is not communicating or the way that they did communicate was a problem.
And so when they see how it affects the bottom line oftentimes it’s eye opening for them.
IV. THE VALUE OF PEER-TO-PEER RELATIONSHIPS ACROSS INDUSTRIES AND PERSONALITY TYPES
MC: Now I want to pivot and ask you some professional development questions. From your background, both with Chief of Minds and as president of the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce, my guess is peer-to-peer relationships are huge for you. Is that true? And tell me how.
LR: Absolutely. It is definitely important. We brainstorm often together. We look at trending issues, things that are going on inside of the workplace, at business policies and regulations.
So having those peer-to-peer relationships is important to keep each other updated, but also to bounce ideas off each other. At a recent CEO round table that I was guest speaking at, we talked about what it looks like for business owners and CEOs when it comes to mental health?
And that’s a big issue because if you don’t have peer-to-peer relationships, sometimes the stress factor can be so high. When you’re looking at policies and laws, what can I say, and what can I not say, it can be a lot, the pressure is high. So it’s very valuable to be able to lean on, get insight from, and to be open with other peers, at the same level that you are and know that it’s going to stay there, but then you can also get the assistance and support that you need. So peer-to-peer relationships are very important.
MC: When I became self-employed as a writer, I thought that the only people who could ever help me in my business were other writers. And then I started doing stories on guys who lead adventure tours, and I learned that we had so much in common that I can’t believe I ever thought we didn’t. I learned from the guy I took parasailing lessons from, the guy I took surfing lessons from, the guy I took dog mushing lessons from. That showed to me the value of peer-to-peer relationships. And I’m wondering in your world, what is the equivalent of that?
Who do you learn from that you think, I didn’t know I was going to learn from that person?
LR: So probably more so on a creative side. I’m a very stringent business-type person. The creative side is not mine. And so entrepreneurs that are in the art field oftentimes I lean on them for that creativity side. Sometimes it’s really thinking out of the box.
I’m very process oriented: “OK, here’s Step 1 through 7, why are we deviating from there?” And they’re like, “Oh, no, there’s a different way to get here.” The creative side always brings other ideas of how to get to Step 7.
And so leaning on them to really think differently, even when it comes to different business models, their way of thinking is totally different than mine. And so it’s very refreshing to have conversations with them. Because then I can get very creative outside of being so regimented with how I think and how I work and put things into place.
This AccelPro audio transcript has been edited and organized for clarity. This interview was recorded on December 18, 2023.
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